Thursday, November 22, 2018

When in Rome...reach for your wallet?

100,000 Rupliah is less than $7 USD
This surfer dude did an interesting write-up of the Nias area. It was mostly about the waves, as you would expect, but he also made this observation:

After landing at Sibolga, as low key a shearing shed of an  airport as you could imagine, we went with the flow of the local grifters. It  felt right, sometimes it just does.
Nearly everyone is on the grift in Indonesia, at  least when it comes to western tourists. It’s done in the mellowest and  friendliest way though, and they rarely rip you off, not really, it’s usually  just a small commission style earn. Minor, unless you are in the weird thrall of the rupiah syndrome, forgetting that the thousands you haggle over are actually mere cents, and the thought of paying a little more than some other hard case bargainer is painful to you. These ultra tight arsed travelers do  turn up, and it is bizarre how much time and energy they will devote to saving  what often amounts to 20 cents. In Indonesia, everything costs  something but nothing costs much, and sometimes I think time is more valuable  than a handful of rupiah. Its best to just shed a steady rain of bank notes and  coast along — most Indonesians earn peanuts and it doesn’t really hurt your  wallet much — and things seem to flow smoothly.
It's easy to adopt this attitude and unfortunately helps support the 'bule = dompet' outlook that pervades touristy areas like Nias and Bali ('bule' is Indonesian for foreigner/Caucasian and 'dompet' means 'wallet'). The Devil's Advocate in me would say that the overly 'generous' types don't understand Indonesian culture and don't care what effect they're having on it.

People in Indonesia don't generally tip. They bargain for differences that to us seem like peanuts. When someone wants to charge a white guy 50,000 Rupiah for bananas that are normally 15,000 (basically $3.30 versus a dollar US), it might seem crazy to haggle. But that same "white guy tax" is one reason that in Nias, a ride to the local traditional village for a tourist can cost ten times (or more) what a local would pay to go there. One Indonesian I have talked to even came right out and said that many Indonesians look down on foreigners who pay too much as 'suckers'.

It's not as simple as saying, 'Don't be such a cheapskate' or 'Never pay more than you have to'. Every situation is different and people will do whatever feels right. I will say that from what I have seen (having traveled across Indonesia on and off for a year or so), Indonesians in places like Bali and Nias generally have a very different attitude than those in less-touristy places. You definitely feel like a walking wallet and there is less friendliness and respect, if that's the right word. Even the surfer/writer quoted above, mentions an incident in Bawomataluo where he is taunted by some locals because he was a tourist. Who knows the reason, maybe it's as simple as familiarity breeding contempt. But maybe we reap what we sow.

1 comment:

  1. Doing the math to figure out what I might owe when buying something would tax my brain.


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